A recent trend I have seen among some is to seek out ever harder whitewater despite not actually having mastered some of the lower grades. They think that going on a harder grade of river will help them to find the grade below easier. This is in my opinion a dangerous attitude to hold. Not only that, but paddling harder water will not improve your technique and skills in the way that you would hope.
To do this is akin to a football team waiting until a important match to practice. Or that same football team using an important match to practice so that their training sessions will be easier!
In order to be better on harder water you need to understand the nuances that make your paddling effective. Coming from a martial arts background I know that sometimes the aspect that gives you the strongest grounding and makes the more difficult moves easy is usually something rather bland and simple.
Kayaking has so many things going on to make effective paddling. Improving your posture, emphasising the use of torso and larger muscle groups to power the paddle with, using your feet more effectively, timing your strokes better, improving your angling during breaking in and out, improving edge awareness, improving the use of your edges (not over using them, or edging when you don’t need to), and one of the most important ones, improving and understanding fully the forward stroke, reading and judging the water better.
With all of these aspects amongst many more to work on, how is it possible for lower grade water to become dull? Refining aspects such as those will help you run bigger grades, not vice versa. Sure, after running a grade 4+ a grade 3 may seem simple at first, but this would be a false sense of perspective unless you really are a good boater who has their skills refined.
The question to ask is do you want to be a boater who wobbles their way down the river with hesitant paddle strokes, or be the guy who can absolutely style the rapid?
Many people I have met in paddling have not taken coaching. Personally I see coaching as the single best investment in my hobby that it is possible to make. I place it alongside decent dry gear in importance! Guys like Ross Montandon, Chris Eastabrook, Dan Butler, Simon Westgarth, Dave Rossiter, Tom Parker, amongst many other high level coaches will transform your understanding of paddling should you take regular courses with them.
A common theme amongst many aspects of being coached is being able to thoroughly understand the basic concepts of what is going on. Without a total and fundamental understanding of the basics it will be very hard to progress. This is why I like slalom paddling.
While it is true that slalomers could learn a lot from getting off their courses and onto a decent river for a whitewater trip, river runners can learn a lot from slalom. This is because slalom is river running. Slalom makes easier rapids much harder. It makes you do grade 4 moves on a grade 2-3 river. The gates are narrow and if you do not have decent boat control and a positive way of paddling you will miss them, even on low grade water.